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Irv Rosenfeld can do something only a handful of American citizens can do. The Fort Lauderdale stockbroker who has accounts in Boca Raton can smoke marijuana legally.
Afflicted with a rare and painful bone disorder since age 10, he is one of only seven people in the United States allowed to receive medical marijuana by prescription from the government. He's been getting it for more than 22 years. But for 33 years, he's been fighting to knock down the legal barrier that prevents people living in the 11 states that allow the use of medical marijuana from getting their hands on it.
Federal law - which makes marijuana illegal in all states - overrules state statutes. As a result, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency can arrest people for using marijuana for medical purposes - even in states that allow it.
"It's time the politicians realize this is a medical issue, not a legal issue," Rosenfeld said. "Stop fighting the war on drugs against sick people."
Rosenfeld will get a chance to confront politicians face to face in Washington on Tuesday when he testifies in favor of a bill being filed by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., that "would prevent the DEA from busting people for using medical marijuana," the advocate said.
U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., plans to sign on, as he did the last time it came before Congress - and failed, said Wexler's spokeswoman, Lale Mamaux. "The congressman supports it," she said. "Last time it was presented, on May 22, 2003, the bill had 44 sponsors." "It's important for people to realize there are seriously and terminally ill people who need relief from pain," Mamaux said. "This should not be the arena for talk about addiction. These people need it for relief of pain. And Congress should take this into serious consideration." "We're sure it will meet with Republican opposition," she said.
Uncle Sam has yet to budge on the issue of a so-called 'federal pre-emption' so medical marijuana users in states that allow it - Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington - don't face possible arrest.
Rosenfeld said the government views marijuana as "an evil, destructive weed that needs to be banned so people won't abuse it." He said he considers that skewed thinking. "Police are for fighting crime, doctors deal with health. Not allowing medical marijuana puts police in the role of doctors."
The stockbroker gets his marijuana by prescription. And if everyone who needs cannabis for medical purposes were to get it the same way, he said, there should be no abuse. He began receiving marijuana cigarettes from the feds as part of the 'compassionate use' program that began in 1978. The plan was cancelled in 1982, but seven people - Rosenfeld among them - were 'grandfathered in' so they can continue to get their medical pot legally.
Rosenfeld has an ailment that results in the formation of tumors at the ends of the longer bones in his skeleton. It is very painful, he said. But when he uses marijuana, "I feel fine," he said.
Most important, he said, marijuana has had no negative impact on him. "I am not at all impaired," he said. "There are people who say it harms your lungs and your brain. How do you explain my situation?"
He is one of four people who underwent an extensive study in 2001 by neurologist Dr. Ethan Russo, who found no physical or mental impairment among them.
Rosenfeld has vowed to help other people in pain get the same benefit of medical marijuana that he does. His advocacy nearly got him in trouble a couple of months ago.
After testifying Feb. 17 in favor of a medical pre-emption bill in Illinois, Rosenfeld was detained by police. He said he was sitting in the gallery with people "who were comparing marijuana to methamphetamine. I couldn't take it any more. So I took out my can of marijuana. Then, a federal marshal came over and said, 'What's that?'" When Rosenfeld explained the situation, the officer backed off.
The Illinois bill was rejected in committee by a vote of 7-4. Rosenfeld has also filed a 'friend of the court' brief in the case of Ashcroft vs. Raich, which is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, Angel Raich and Diane Monson - two women with ailments that could be helped by medical marijuana - are asking the court to give them the OK.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft had argued against it in an effort to keep the law intact.
A decision may not be handed down until July.
Rosenfeld said medical marijuana is an effective treatment for a number of diseases, including AIDS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, glaucoma and even pre-menstrual syndrome.